The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pipes & Drums


at the


The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo


Narrative by Graham Muir
Images by Bruce Neill
Some tales are best told from the closing chapter.  This account chronicles the participation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Pipes & Drums at the 2015 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (REMT).
Closing night, Saturday August 29. 

The Ying and Yang Formation

It had all come down to this - completing a full run of Tattoo performances, pleasing the public and doing both Canada and the Force proud.  We completed 27 shows over 23 nights.  There are no words to describe the feeling of parading as part of the Massed Pipes and Drums  through the Portcullis Gate of Edinburgh Castle, over the drawbridge under the lights and through mist, and onto the Esplanade to the loud welcome of some 8,000 spectators that comprise the audience for each performance.
We then performed the opening act for the Tattoo that saw the Massed Band move on the march into a formation covering the Esplanade resembling the ancient Chinese yin-yang symbol.  Easier said than done!  This formation was intended to complement the Tattoo’s 2015 theme, ‘East meets West’, celebrating the strength and synergy of combined cultures.  This act was comprised of seven minutes of non-stop music and movement.   As the music reached its crescendo, the Massed Bands were joined on the Esplanade by the Tattoo Highland Dancers and the Shetland Fiddlers.  The Massed Bands then reformed to a spirited march, appropriately entitled ‘The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo’ and countermarched off of the Esplanade with the Drum Majors offering their first salute of the evening to the VIPs. 
Pipe Section preparing for Hector segment
The pipe section of our band found their way back to the Esplanade towards the middle of the program as part of the Massed Band pipers who accompanied a vocalist with supporting instruments (small pipes and tin whistle) and the Shetland Fiddlers in a stirring rendition of a classic Highland lament, ‘Hector the Hero’.
The Massed Pipes and Drums featured prominently in the Finale.  An orchestral piece entitle ‘Fireworks’ was commissioned especially for the Tattoo. The full brass ensemble of the Tattoo, joined by the pipes and drums delivered this remarkable musical tribute.  With the Castle wall back-lit behind the Finale cast, an incredible display of fireworks punctuated the music itself marking the end of the Tattoo program [see the title page photograph].
And last to leave the Esplanade was the Massed Bands.  If there is one thing that spectators come to see in this storied place, it’s the pipes and drums on the march playing ‘Scotland the Brave’ and ‘The Black Bear’.  The crowd was not to be disappointed:  the Massed Bands paraded the lengt
h of the Esplanade, countermarched back to the Castle, countermarched one last time with Drum Majors saluting the VIPs as the band exited the Esplanad
e and continued playing down the Royal Mile – a signature event in its own right
The center of the front rank of the Massed Bands on the march
The Road to Edinburgh.
Participation in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is by invitation only.  For the RCMP Pipes & Drums, the call came in the form of correspondence dated November 14, 2013, from the Tattoo Production Manager, Mr. Steve Walsh, MBE, to the RCMP Executive Director of Public Affairs at National Headquarters, Ottawa.   Mr. Walsh, mindful of the fact that there may have competing interests in 2014, extended the invitation to include 2015.  And so it was to be.
The Edinburgh Tattoo production staff is not prone to unnecessary risk.  They effectively scout the acts and talent that comprise each Tattoo, often years in advance. The RCMP Pipes & Drums came to their attention while performing at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo (RNSIT) in 2012, and then again at the Festival International de Musiques Militaire de Quebec (FIMMQ) in 2013. 
Hitting the ground running, Saturday August 1. 
First rate ‘rations & quarters’, Edinburgh University
Our RCMP national pipe band program is unique to the extent that we are practiced in the art of forming composite bands, comprised of pipers and drummers selected from the various bands across Canada.  In Edinburgh we were proud to have representation from all seven bands: Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Ottawa, Montreal, Moncton and Halifax. 
The one significant challenge that this presents is the ability to ‘hit the ground running’.  While other bands play and rehearse together, and have ample time to familiarize themselves with the music repertoire, we actually play the music for the first time together once we’ve landed and stowed our kit.
The pipe music, drum scores, and some video recordings of tenor drum flourishing began to arrive by email in February – we were still courting revisions and additions to the music in May.  Our Ottawa contingent was fortunate to have sufficient numbers to convene Tattoo group practices as we approached our departure date on July 31.  The majority of our composite band members were left to their own devices to commit the music to memory.
First practice – down to business
The Band mustered at the University of Edinburgh, Pollock Halls Campus, over the course of the day on Saturday August 1. The day was spent settling in and tending to basic ‘creature comforts’:  occupying our quarters, finding our way to the cafeteria and scoping out the local watering hole(s).
It was down to business on Sunday August 2.  Pipe Major Wayne Moug, Pipe Sergeant Brian Morrison and Drum Sergeant Bruce Neill gathered the team for mid morning chanter and drum pad practice.  By the early afternoon, the pipes and drums were out, tuning had commenced, and we were making music – mostly. 
It is always quite something to behold when a band comes together in this fashion.  The sheet music is out and scattered across tabletops.  There are pens and pencils and erasers in abundance.  There is a predictable staccato rhythm to these sessions. 
The good Pipe Major and/or the Pipe Sergeant talk us through each piece of music: part by part, line by line, phrase by phrase, one tune after another.  And we play it as we go along.  And we play it again. And again.  It is an iterative and often painstaking process that provides for a common understanding of how the music is to be played and expressed.
Fraser Court Residence – home away from home
As chanters and pads give way to pipes and drums, so too begins the arduous process of tuning the instruments:  setting the reeds, taping the holes of the chanters, adjusting the drum heads, and the incessant attention to fine detail that is part of all pipe band set-up.  Brian Morrison is ‘the sound guru’.  He has personal and unfettered domain over each and every chanter to get things just right.
On Sunday evening Pipe Major Moug and Drum Major Muir were off to Redford Barracks for the Tattoo opening conference and full cast production meeting.  Hard on the heels of these assemblies came the briefing for the Massed Pipes & Drums, and our first exposure to the Tattoo leadership team that would set the tone for the duration of our stay.  In a word, ‘impressive’!
The rite of passage to opening night, Friday August 7.
Suffice to say, Monday to Friday passed in a blur - early to rise and late to bed, and a bunch of blisters in between.  The tattoo cast deployed to several venues in and around Edinburgh.  Each of the performing elements worked on their own segment and then was brought together for integrated segments and to refine transitions from one show segment to the next.  The Massed Pipes & Drums were based at Redford Barracks on the outskirts of Edinburgh.  It went something like this:
 Monday August 3 – Massed Bands rehearsal, morning and afternoon, at Redford Barracks.  Evening rehearsal at Edinburgh Castle on the Esplanade.
 Tuesday August 4 - Massed Bands morning rehearsal at Redford Barracks.  RCMP Band afternoon rehearsal at Pollock Halls Campus.  Evening rehearsal and sequencing of all acts including finale rehearsal at Edinburgh Castle on the Esplanade, concluding at 11:00 pm.
 Wednesday August 5  - Two complete run-throughs of the Tattoo at Redford Barracks until mid afternoon.  Full run-through during the evening on the Esplanade.
 Thursday August 6 – Individual pipe band rehearsals during the day.  First dress rehearsal at 7:00 pm at Edinburgh Castle on the Esplanade.  Second dress rehearsal at 9:30 pm, with paying public and media in attendance, concluding at 11:30 pm. 
During the fevered pitch of this rehearsal schedule, we came to understand and respect the British Army’s penchant for wee detail and attention to ‘timings’. The entire tattoo cast, numbering well over 1,000 participants was constantly on the move.  Ground transportation was provided by highway coaches.  There was no mercy shown for tardiness. 
Security was an issue.  With so many elements of the cast representing domestic and foreign military/security institutions, security precautions were in evidence.  Young soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Scotland searched our buses in advance of any move, and rode the buses with us.  Routes to and from the Castle varied, so as to avoid an established routine.  And site security at the Castle and Esplanade was conducted with professionalism and rigour.
Tattoo rehearsal, Redford Barracks, … over and over and over again
Practice makes perfect, or so the saying goes.  And the precedent for the Massed Pipes and Drums was established at the outset. Our first priority, on arrival at the Castle in advance of every show, was to muster on the upper ramparts to rehearse each and every element of the massed band tattoo repertoire.  We were properly put through our paces: 200 pipers and drummers gathered in a broad circle playing the music - listening for ‘tone and pitch’, perfecting ‘attacks and cut offs’, and rendering rote the transitions between tempos and tunes.
And more rehearsal – on the upper ramparts of Edinburgh Castle
About the Tattoo.
The Edinburgh Tattoo is renowned as the best show of its kind worldwide.  Because it is, after all, a Scottish endeavor, the Massed Pipes & Drums have pride of place as both the opening and closing acts of the performance, with support given to other segments of the show. Performers from over 48 countries have taken part in the Tattoo and around 30 per cent of the audience, numbering roughly 220,000 each year, comes from abroad.
Each year's Tattoo is very much a global gathering - showcasing the talents of musicians and performers from every corner of the globe. The international flavour of the Tattoo has been deliberately developed as a key element in its capacity to entertain a cosmopolitan audience.  The Tattoo's unique ability to bring together thousands of people for this annual celebration of music and entertainment continues and the public's appetite for pomp and ceremony shows no sign of abating.
The theme of the 2015 Tattoo has been ‘East meets West’.  There was a most impressive infusion of eastern culture and music with the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army Band, the Lotus Dragon Dancer, also from China, and Bollywood Dancers from Delhi India.  Combined with other performing elements of the Tattoo, by all accounts 2015 will stand the test of time as ‘crowd pleaser’.
Getting things done: the key people.
We knew from the outset that we were in capable hands.  And we owe a debt of gratitude to the Tattoo leadership team that hosted and guided us during our stay.  Setting aside ‘words of command’ on parade, there was n’ery a raised voice nor an expletive among us,… well, har
L-R, The Three Wise men: Martin, Small, Hay
As one component of the Tattoo Massed Pipes and Drums we reported and responded to a tight team of professional soldiers an
d fine musicians.  On reflection, they might best be known as the ‘three wise men’.

Major Steven Small, as the Director of the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming, is the designated Director of the Tattoo Massed Pipes and Drums.  He was ably assisted by Seniour Pipe Major Martin MacDonald and Seniour Drum Major Michael ‘Mik’ Hay, both of whom are posted at the School as chief instructors of piping and drumming respectively.  

These gentlemen, in turn, reported to the Tattoo Executive Director, Brigadier General David Alfrey, MBE, and Production Manager
Mr. Steven Walsh, MBE.  As a combined leadership team, they espoused a “focus on the performers’ experience”.

Simply stated, they believe in – and deliver on – the best possible support to each cast member.  In partnership with Edinburgh University they: provided excellent accommodation and an abundance of good food; assigned a dedicated liaison officer to trouble shoot and solve daily logistical concerns; and made themselves available to listen and take counsel from those of us committed to making the Tattoo the success that they envisaged.

Best laid plans.
Notwithstanding best laid plans, bad things do happen on occasion!  No story of any road trip would be worth the telling were it not for some modest misfortune.  In most every respect we were blessed.  For instance, we travelled to and from Scotland without so much as a missed flight connection or a lost piece of luggage.
But on arrival in Scotland, and within days of settling in to Pollock Halls Campus of the University of Edinburgh, we were beset by a wicked dose of the ‘campus crud’. The symptoms were every bit like a low-grade flu bug: sore throat, cough, achiness, runny nose, fatigue, and so forth.  But it hung on.  And it ran through the tattoo cast in a serious way.  And it still hung on.  It may not have been deadly, but it was certainly debilitating.  We were optimistic in the early days that it was treatable with modest amounts of malt whisky.  Not so.  Many of us brought the darned thing home with us! 
Pipe Majors Grisdale and Moug
Shortly after arrival we were advised that we required ‘concert chanters’ for the pipes, set at a different pitch to accommodate performing with 
brass and stringed instruments.  We had not anticipated that. To our great fortune, Pipe Major MacDonald placed chanters on loan to us from the Piping School for the duration of the Tattoo.  And we made a good friend of Pipe Major Richard Grisdale of the Black Watch who was gracious enough to assist Pipe Major Moug and Pipe Sergeant Morrison in setting the chanters and experimenting with ‘drone extenders’.
One good deed deserves another. Jeff Leblanc of our drum corps found himself quite popular among the Citadel drum corps, teaching their young drummers the finer points of tuning drum heads. 
Aside from one evening of torrential rain, we managed to stay (mostly) dry for the duration of the Tattoo – a rare thing in Scotland, or so we were told.  Acts of God aside, we were beset by falling/flaming debris from the Castle cannons on one occasion.  The Massed Pipes and Drums form up inside
the Castle walls, staged to exit through the Portcullis Gate onto the Esplanade. It is a confined area, much like a long and narrow cobblestone alleyway.  The cannons fire from the battlements directly above our heads. On the evening in question, flaming debris from the muzzle flash of a cannon dropped into the rear
ranks of the drum corps. It created an instantaneous and unwelcome waist-high bonfire, almost setting some drummers alight. 
A crisis nearly averted, to say the least.

On the lighter.


We worked hard and we played hard.  For many of us, performing at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been a ‘bucket list’ thing – especially among theA typical scene of post-tattoo R&R in residence older folk.  We certainly came to do our best. We also came to see the sights and to enjoy the fellowship and shared experience that underpins our motivation to play the music and represent the Force. 
Once the early days of rehearsal were behind us, and we’d settled into our ‘garrison’ routine, there was ample opportunity to relax.  It was usually close to midnight by the time we returned to our quarters in Fraser Court.  We had the best of communal living.  We were four to an apartment, with separate bedrooms and shared common areas.  We were clustered in adjoining buildings that comprised Fraser Court.  And somebody in their infinite wisdom decided to co-locate the police pipe bands, so our brothers and sisters from Australia and New Zealand lived among us.
Pollock Halls Campus of Edinburgh University is a twenty-minute stroll from the heart of Edinburgh and the Castle.  We could not have been better situated.  There was much to see and do. And for those with a scheduled day off (or two), Stirling and Glasgow were a short jaunt by train. 

Thanks Owing.
There is a debt of thanks owing to our leadership team.  Pipe Major Moug brought years of wisdom borne of experience along with his quiet and steady ways.  Drum Sergeant Bruce Neill did a fine job of leading and advocating for the drum corps.  Pipe Sergeant Brian Morrison was outstanding in his role as our sound tech.  I have it on good authority that yours truly is much easier to get along with as a piper than as Drum Major.  Ah well!
At the risk of leaving folks out, a special vote of thanks goes to:  Derek Smith for lending his IT talent to build our roster scheduling tool; Donald Corbett for his patience and perseverance in tending to the scheduling; Lorne Clifford for glue that binds all good teams; and yet again to Bruce Neill for his eye with a camera.

In conclusion.
There can be no better validation for a job well done than a return invitation.  And such is the case.  We are receipt of correspondence from the Tattoo’s seniour production staff that makes it abundantly clear that we made the grade and are welcome back. 
Mission accomplished!
A. The Massed Pipes and Drums
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
The Highlanders, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
The Gurkha Rifles, 1st and 2nd Battalions
The Royal Air Force Pipe Band Association
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The Citadel (Military College, South Carolina)
The Aukland Police (New Zealand)
Manly Warringah (Australia)
Christchurch City (New Zealand)
Scotch College (Australia)
The Crossed Swords (Germany)
The Pipers’ Trail (Scotland)
B. The Massed Band Music Program
The Old Rustic Bridge
Ye Jacobites By Name
The Battle of Waterloo
The Massacre of Glencoe
Let’s Have a Ceilidh
Now is the hour
John Paterson’s Mare
Donald Blue
Donald Dhu
Black and White
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
C. The Tattoo Music Program
Fanfare (East Meets West)
Massed Pipes and Drums (March On and Medley)
The United States Air Force Honour Guard (Precision Rifle Drill)
The Shetland Fiddlers – Hjaltibonhoga, The Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland
The Tattoo Highland Dancers, The Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland
The Military Band of the People’s Liberation Army of China
Changxing Lotus Dragon Dance Folklore Group (China)
The Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes
A Bolywood Love Story (Delhi India and Scotland’s south Asian diaspora)
Massed Pipes and Drums (Hector the Hero)
Top Secret Drum Corps (Switzerland)
The Royal Air Force Massed Bands, RAF Queen’s Colour Squadron (Precision Drill)
The Massed Military Bands and Massed Pipes and Drums
March Off
The Tattoo Fact File
  1. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has always been performed on the Castle Esplanade (parade ground).  Tattoo rehearsals take place at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh.
  2. The first Edinburgh Tattoo took place in 1950.  There were eight items in the program.
  3. More than 14 million people have attended the Tattoo. The annual audience is around 220,000.  Around 20 percent of the audience is from Scotland, 50 percent from the rest of the United Kingdom, and 30 percent – 65,000 people – from overseas.
  4. Around 70 percent of visitors who attend the Tattoo say that it is their sole reason for coming to Scotland.
  5. Around 100 million people see the Tattoo each year on international television.
  6. New £16 million spectator stands and hospitality facilities were put in place at the Castle Esplanade for the summer of 2011.
  7. The first commercial stereo LP record of the Tattoo was released in 1961.
  8. The Tattoo was first seen in colour on TV in 1968.
  9. 2014 marked the Tattoo’s sixteenth successive sell-out season, generating approximately £10 million in box office receipts.
  10. Around 35 miles of cabling (the distance from Edinburgh to Glasgow) is required to present the Tattoo.
  11. From 1950 to 1991, there were four producers: Lt Col George Malcolm of Poltalloch, Brigadier MacLean, Brigadier Sanderson and Lt Col Dow.
  12. Major Michael Parker then took over as producer for the 1992, 1993 and 1994 Tattoos. He was succeeded by Brigadier Melville Jameson in 1995, who in turn was followed by Major General Euan Loudon from March 2007-2010. Brigadier David Allfrey, a former Commander of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, has been producer of the Tattoo since 2011.
  13. The first overseas regiment to participate was the Band of the Royal Netherlands Grenadiers. The year was 1952, and there were also performers from Canada and France.
  14. The first lone piper was Pipe Major George Stoddart. He played in every performance for the first eleven years. His son, Major Gavin Stoddart, followed his father as lone piper at the Tattoo and became Director of Army Bagpipe Music for 12 years.
  15. Not a single performance of the Tattoo has ever been cancelled.
  16. The Tattoo is set up and run for charitable purposes. Over the years, it has gifted some £8 million to service and civilian organizations.
  17. At the last official independent count, visitors to the Tattoo contributed an estimated £77 million to the Scottish economy.
  18. 48 countries from across six continents have been represented at the Tattoo.
  19. The word ‘tattoo’ comes from the closing-time cry in the inns in the Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries - ‘Doe den tap toe’ (‘Turn off the taps’).


A.  Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming.
Founded in 1910 as the Army School of Piping (later renamed the Army School of Bagpipe Music), the School is located at Inchdrewer House near Redford Barracks in Edinburgh and is administered by the Infantry Training Centre. It is also affiliated with the Corps of Army Music.  The School is commanded by a Director who holds the rank of Major and is a qualified army Pipe Major, typically commissioned from the rank of Warrant Officer on appointment.
The School provides courses at different levels to pipers and drummers of the British Armed Forces throughout the year, and qualified instructors are drawn from the pipes and drums of various units in the British Army. The School accepts students from Commonwealth armed forces, but not civilians. It has in the past provided instruction to various police band members, but this has not taken place in recent years.
The School forms part of the Piping and Drumming Qualifications Board, which is a collaboration among the Piobaireachd Society, the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, the College of Piping, and the Piping Centre.
B.  Brigadier General David Alfrey, MBE, Executive Producer
Brigadier Alfrey was commissioned into the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in 1979 and commanded the regiment from 2000 until 2002. Former Commander of 51st Scottish Brigade, he has been the Executive Producer of the Tattoo since 2011. He brings incredible energy and vision in ensuring that the Tattoo retains its place as a ‘best in class’ military music festival.  With a clear affinity for ‘all things Scottish’, he could often be found shouting his approval from the curb as the Massed Pipes and Drums paraded down the Royal Mile from the Castle at the end of the show.
C.  Steven Walsh, MBE, Production Manager
In a previous lifetime, Mr. Walsh was the Garrison Sergeant Major at Edinburgh Castle.  He has been involved in the production of the Tattoo for well over twenty years.  As the Production Manager, he brings considerable influence in determining the integral performing elements of each year’s cast.  And he is the ‘man on the g
round’ who: speaks truth to power, brokers peace among competing interests, takes the hard decisions, and brings the show together. 

D.  Major Steven Small, Director, Army School of Bagpipe Music & Highland Drumming
Formerly of the Black Watch, Major Small served as regimental Pipe Major and then as Seniour Pipe Major of the British Army.  He is the incumbent Director of the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming and, as such, is the Director of the Tattoo Massed Pipes and Drums.  He chooses the music for each Tattoo, conducts band rehearsals and takes a ‘hands on’ approach to over-all drill and choreography.  Especially during the many hours of perfecting the ‘yin and yang’ formation, he became well known for his succinct direction to all and sundry: “Curve please!”

E.  Seniour Pipe Major Martin MacDonald
Pipe Major MacDonald, formerly of The Highlanders, 4th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, is the current Seniour Pipe Major of the British Army and the Chief Piping Instructor at the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming.  He worked in direct support of Major Small to ensure that the over-all sound of the band was to standard and that the execution of the music was likewise without fault.  Early on in the rehearsal schedule he was gracious enough to provide concert pitch pipe chanters to our band, on loan from the School.
F. Seniour Drum Major Michael (Mick) Hay
Drum Major Hay, formerly of The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, is the Chief Drumming Instructor at The Army School of Piping and Drumming.  As such he is also designated as the Seniour Drum Major of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  He worked in support of Major Small to ensure that rehearsals and formation drill went well.  With a keen eye for small detail, not surprisingly, he kept close contact with other massed band Drum Majors to make sure that a high standard of dress, drill and deportment was maintained.  As a man of very few words, he made frequent use of the phrase “Sort it!” when things needed fixing.